The year 2009 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first successful allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). The field of HSCT has pioneered some of the most exciting areas of research today. HSCT was the original stem cell therapy, the first cancer immune therapy and the earliest example of individualized cancer therapy. In this Timeline article we review the history of the development of HSCT and major advances made in the past 50 years. We highlight accomplishments made by researchers who continue to strive to improve outcomes for patients and increase the availability of this potentially life-saving therapy for patients with otherwise incurable malignancies.